The case against Baltimore’s rogue police squad brought to light an array of victimized people: pigeon store owners, a suburban couple, an immigrant from Senegal, men and women who were robbed, framed or made collateral damage by lawless cops.
Little attention was paid to the late William James until now.
Attorneys and city leaders are closely watching a lawsuit from James’ estate, saying the case may prove a bellwether for the raft of police corruption lawsuits slated to come. James had won a $32,000 judgment against three of the rogue officers, and his attorneys want the city to pay up on behalf of the now-imprisoned cops.
“This case will point the direction for all future cases,” City Solicitor Andre Davis said. “It’s critically important.”
In court records filed this week, Davis affirmed his position that the officers acted outside their scope of employment to commit their crimes. Therefore, he says, the city is not responsible for paying the victims.
“The fact that the Officers were in an on-duty status at the time of their deviant behavior is of no moment,” city attorneys wrote the court. “Their actions were clearly personal … did not further the BPD’s interests, and instead were part and parcel of their vast and sprawling criminal enterprise.”
The filing cited Maryland case law that establishes “scope of employment” as conduct that furthers an employer’s business and is authorized by that employer. The actions of the Gun Trace Task Force fall far outside those bounds, the attorneys argue.
“They routinely and as a matter of course detained and robbed citizens, planted guns and drugs, and lied in documents to justify arrests, and perjured themselves on a daily basis,” the city attorneys wrote. “In short, they were lousy police officers but accomplished mobsters.”
In August 2016, James and his girlfriend were driving in East Baltimore when two police cars cut them off. James pulled over; Det. Marcus Taylor and Sgt. Wayne Jenkins approached him.
Attorneys for both James and the city agree on what happened next.
“Taylor pulled Mr. James out of his car and advised that he would release him if he provided the name of a person who possessed guns or drugs,” city attorneys wrote. “The co-conspirators then huddled in a circle, and Jenkins emerged with a gun and stated, ‘This is your gun right here.’”
James was arrested and charged with illegal possession of a handgun. Prosecutors later dropped the charges. James sued and won a $32,000 judgment against the officers. He died in May.
His attorney said the city is liable for that judgment. Both James’ attorneys and Davis say that matter won’t be settled until the issue reaches the state’s highest courts.
“The city is going to try and paint with a very broad brush and ask for a sweeping ruling that affects any and all plaintiffs,” said Mandy Miliman, the attorney for James’ estate. “Whether the ruling is broad or more narrow, it will affect any citizen’s complaints against these officers.”
The number of lawsuits against the officers grows by the week. Now more than a dozen people have sued them in state and federal court, Davis said. The city has also received more than 60 notices of intent to sue.
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Veteran civil rights attorney A. Dwight Pettit said he expects to file about 10 lawsuits against the officers in federal court. In years past, attorneys had shied away from bringing such cases in federal court where the jury pool can stretch to conservative Western Maryland or the Eastern Shore. State law caps payments in these cases — around $400,000 and $500,000, Pettit says — but a federal judgment would not be bound by such caps.
“There are going to be multitudes of litigation,” Pettit said. “They should put a special fund together; maybe even the state will assist them. Lots of people were injured; a lot of people were damaged.”
Pettit said Davis’ argument that the rogue cops acted outside the scope of their jobs rings hollow. The officers admitted in court to pulling citizens over and stopping them on the streets before robbing them.
“They were damn sure acting in the scope of their employment,” he said. “They were acting as police officers.”
Eight former members of the Gun Trace Task Force have been convicted of racketeering and sentenced to federal prison. The officers — six accepted plea deals, two were convicted after a trial — stole money from citizens, lied on paperwork and bilked the city for unearned overtime pay. They are serving prison sentences that range from seven to 25 years.
Davis has argued that the officers’ conduct was so far outside their job duties that an agreement with the police union to cover lawsuit damages should not apply. He had sought a preemptive ruling from the Baltimore Circuit Court to strengthen protections for the city.
Circuit Judge Gregory Sampson, however, denied the request in May.